The skills required for a sales person to help prospects successfully navigate through their purchasing process vary by industry and distribution channels. For my purposes I will create a straw sales competency model for a company that sells products used commonly by other businesses and that the predominant distribution channel is direct.
The first four skills are critical skills that the sales person uses to gain access to decision makers & key influencers, to raise the prosects awareness of their needs, to probe for business fit and finally to help prospects make the purchasing decision. The second four skills are those that are necessary for the sales person to become a knowledgeable resource, to effectively & efficiently manage their territory and prospect pipelines.
- Prospecting – The ability of the sales person to recognize potentially valuable customer relationships. To find avenues of introduction to coaches, key influencers or decision makers. The effective sales person will utilize a variety of tools to generate leads including networking, on-line sources, company originated leads and good old fashioned “dialing for dollars”. It is essential that every sales person have a two minute sales pitch and a telephone script that is committed to memory (my opinion). All skills are squarely aimed at identifying opportunity and gaining access. This is the one skill that fills a pipeline. No matter how talented a sales person is in other skill areas, a gap here will always put a governor on their utimate contributions.
- Presenting – While prospecting is a sales person’s least favorite activity, most sales people feel they shine when it comes to presenting. However presenting is so much more than standing in front of people and telling them everything you know. Generally there are two types of presentations. The first is an exploratory first discussion, usually with a coach or key influencer. The intent of this meeting is to exchange information and to probe for a business fit. I do suscribe to the ABC of selling (always be closing), it is most likely that the close on this call is to move to the next step of the sales cycle, usually a needs analysis. The other type of meeting is a formal presentation (see #4). This meeting is generally for a discussion of a proposal and to sell the business fit between the two companies. This meeting may seem like a “love fest” when a talented sales person delivers a flawless presentation. This presentation is complicated and many sales people are not as competent as they should be. Topics, tones and delivery are critically important! Senior level decision makers will buy more from people that sell business fit, and demonstrate a knowledge of the prospect’s company. In other words they are more likely to buy because of the fit and what you know about them & their company than what you know about your own company and products.
- Probing – The most consistently high performing sales people are not surprisingly the best at probing. They probe for decision making process, players & roles, current practices, potential obstacles, uncovering gatekeepers and they are always seeking out the components of a superior business fit.
- Proposing & Closing – There are several elements to the proposal presentation meeting. Introduction, agenda, customer overview, your company overview, the business fit and next steps. Depending upon your industry, company and products the amount of time invested in each element will vary.
- Industry Knowledge – Sales people must be infinitely knowedgeable about their industry and should have a good understanding of the prospect’s industry. The more the sales person understands about the prospects industry the more referrals and recommendations they will receive.
- Product Knowledge – All sales people must know everything about their products. The knowledge must go beyond the specifications of the product, the must know how the product is used! Spending time with your customer service delivery group, your operations and within customer’s operations are all splendid investments that will yield great returns over time. As important as product knowledge is, it is also important that this knowledge is shared sparingly. Prospect are only interested in enough product knowledge to assure themselves that they are buying a product/service that will work for them. Product knowledge should be crammed into a proposal, not a presentation.
- Sales Pipeline Management – With the installation of CRM the importance of the sales pipeline management has become increasingly important because many companies use CRM to forecast sales. Errors in prospect assessment can make forecasting at least inaccurate if not misleading. In addition to correctly assessing prospect pipeline each sales person should be able to correctly identify the obstacles and tactical plans to move the prospect to the next cycle step.
- Resource Management – Sales costs continuously move higher and it is the job of every sales person to judiciously apply the resources necessary to acquire new accounts. Expense management is thought to be a task for sales managers but the sales representative can be the solely determine the necessity of utilizing some centralized resources such as the number of people attending prospect meetings, the utility of centralized prosposal development etc. Great sales people will call in the cavalry to acquire new business.
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